The “Stop The AVN” Campaign

by Ken McLeod

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN)

The Australian Vaccination Network is based on the New South Wales north coast wedged between Australian’s largest population of aging hippies and younger new-age alternative lifestylers. The first thing that is necessary to understand about the AVN is that the title is totally misleading. It claims to be a discussion forum about the pros and cons of vaccination. In fact the focussed message emanating from the group is simply and unequivocally that Vaccination is Evil. It is led by American citizen Meryl Dorey. Her claims of membership numbers range from 300 to 2,500 depending on what day it is and the phase of the moon. For many years the AVN had a free ticket to disseminate their propaganda. For this we must thank a scientifically illiterate and lazy Australian media, who in the mindless pursuit of “balance” always turned to Dorey for a quote whenever vaccination or disease was mentioned.

Stop The AVN (SAVN)

Strangely enough, SAVN began life as an immunisation awareness campaign. In 2009, baby Dana McCaffery died from Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Pertussis had become very rare in Australia, due to a long-term efficient vaccination program against the disease. Dana McCaffery was too young to have been immunised against Pertussis; however, the local community’s vulnerability to the disease had been seriously compromised by recent low immunisation rates. The NSW Health Dept asked the parents if they could use Dana’s story to promote immunisation. The parents agreed, the story went public, and they were pelted with vile abuse from AVN supporters. That led to a Channel 7 TV debate led by Mike Munro, a leading Australian journalist.

Several Skeptics were horrified by the antics of the AVN, particularly Dorey’s call to Paul Corben, CEO of the Northern Rivers Area Health Service. In a letter to the McCafferys he wrote:

“I am replying to the concerns you raised about the AVN’s efforts to spread misinformation about Dana’s death and the dangers of pertussis or other vaccine-preventable diseases. …. Their callousness and disregard for you and your family is chilling indeed. ….
“As discussed on 8 May (2009), when Ms Dorey called me on 12 March seeking details of your daughter’s illness and death, I advised her that while there was laboratory confirmation of Dana’s pertussis diagnosis, I would not be providing to her any details in addition to those provided in the media release as this would be, as she was aware, in contravention of privacy legislation and NSW Health policies.
“Ms Dorey contended that I had misled the public in attributing your daughter’s death to pertussis …………”

Ms Dorey went so far as to claim on national TV that Pertussis never killed anyone.
Led by science student Daniel Raffael, the SAVN was formed to combat the barrage of anti-vaccination disinformation. The campaign began with an internet petition and a Facebook Group. SAVN now has a large number of scientists, doctors, PhDs, nurses, paramedics, and laymen in its 2,000+ membership.

Ken McLeod

At the time, I submitted an independent complaint to the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. It was only after this that I became aware of the SAVN and joined. My background is that of an air traffic controller – Search And Rescue national manager – bureaucrat – Senate researcher – investor- boutique farmer – stirrer, (a skill-set useful to this kind of campaign).
At the same time as SAVN was being formed, the McCafferys pressured the Health Dept to embark on the national immunisation awareness campaign that had been promised. That led to a premature announcement by the NSW Health Minister in his press release. He was told by his Federal and State colleagues to pipe down while they prepared the campaign. The McCafferys continued the pressure, and got a disgraceful letter referring to the need to conduct “market research” first. What an insult. Nothing has happened since; so the McCafferys joined forces with Professor Robert Booy, who is equally frustrated with the delay, and he created this website.

Stop the AVN’s Two – Part Campaign 

We have found over many years that it is pointless to try to reason with antivaxxers; their ideas are set in concrete and no amount of logic or science will budge them.

PART 1 is the rather successful public activism against the AVN organised through the SAVN Facebook page. Our activities at all times have been strictly legal, in spite of contrary allegations, and include:

– Complaints to venue owners regarding forthcoming AVN seminars. (At least 2 venues were withdrawn.)

– Complaints to advertisers that they were acting against the interests of Australia’s children. Some cancelled their advertising, claiming that they had been misled as to the true nature of the AVN.

– A never-ending barrage of corrections in the media and on Facebook and web pages whenever a lie was published by the AVN.

– Alerting copyright owners to the innumerable thefts of their intellectual property by the AVN, and to the AVN’s sales of that material.

– Obtaining AVN internal documents and publishing them on the web. See my Scribd page here.

– Complaints to any number of government departmental acronyms such as the ASIC, ATO, OFT, LSC, HCCC, & OLGR, who administer various legislative instruments governing the activities of the AVN. So far we have had successes with the release of the HCCC report, the cancellation of the AVN’s Charitable Fundraising Authority by the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing OLGR, and the refusal by the Australian Tax Office to agree to Deductible Gift Recipient status for the AVN. On 4 August 2010, the OLGR said they had identified possible breaches of the Charitable Trusts Act which are to be referred to the Department of Justice and Attorney General. Will that lead to a prosecution? Watch this space.

– Extensive co-operation with the media, pointing out where they had been misled by the AVN or had exhibited what we call “false balance.” Following our campaign and the publication of the HCCC Report, Australian journalists are now much more aware of the AVN’s deceit and are now unwilling to turn to Meryl Dorey as an authoritative source on immunisation issues.

Notice that many of these activities hit the AVN where it hurts, in the cash register. Following this latest activity by OLGR, the AVN is prohibited by the Charitable Fundraising Act from conducting public appeals for money. They can continue to sell their rubbish merchandise and appeal to their members for money, so they remain in business, even if that is much restricted. They are also deprived of what Margaret Thatcher described as “the oxygen of publicity.”

SAVN members are encouraged to participate by reporting the AVN’s activities to the appropriate authorities , and many are doing just that.

Meanwhile I notice that the NSW Associations Incorporation Act 2009 allows for the cancellation of registration of an Incorporated Association, which the AVN is. I think I feel a complaint coming over me.

Lately we have run an advertising campaign aimed at the heartlands of the AVN warning the public of the HCCC’s findings against the AVN. That will continue.

The AVN is challenging the HCCC in the NSW Supreme Court and OLGR in the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal. Apart from wasting a huge amount of members’ money, we don’t see that this will have much of an effect.

PART 2 is the less successful campaign to persuade governments to promote immunisation and counter the anti-vaccination propaganda from the likes of Meryl Dorey and the AVN. We continue to agitate government health authorities and politicians to do their job. It’s not hard; all they have to do is tell the public the truth and to promote vaccination. Clear evidence is emerging that controllable childhood diseases are once more on the rise in areas where parents have opted to avoid vaccinating their children. All we have had so far from the politicians, apart from one or two brave voices, is cowardice.
The campaign to Stop the AVN will continue. We have had many successes, the most important being that the Australian media no longer seek comment from Ms Dorey or her group. Meanwhile, it is a travesty that our democracy and entitlement to free expression has been traduced by people who peddle theories that range from the bizarre to the outright lunatic. We will continue to exploit every legal avenue to stop these cranks.

Links to Media Articles

These are links to media articles concerning our campaign to Stop the AVN, with the most recent at the top of the list.

1st September 2011 * Medical Observer “Anti-vax advocates continue battle against HCCC” by Mark O’Brien

18 August 2011 * ABC Radio National Breakfast “Medical community angered over chiropractor vaccination claims” (mp3)

15 August 2011 * MJA Insight “The rise and rise of pseudoscience” by Sue Ieraci. (Access to account holders

29 July 2011 * ABC News “AMA attacks anti-vaccine chiropractors” 

24 July 2011 * The (Sydney) Sunday Telegraph “Why charity fraud is the ‘softest’ crime”

1 July 2011 * advertisement in “Bangalow’s Heartbeat”  “The Truth About Vaccination” page 21

15 June 2011 * Sydney Daily Telegraph “ Pity you can’t be immunised against deceptive snake oil salesmen”

12 June 2011 * Channel 9 60 Minutes “Getting the Point”

24 May 2011 * ABC Complaints – Complaint:  Listeners complained that a representative of the  AVN was invited to discuss the safety and efficacy of the influenza vaccine on the ABC South East (SA) Mornings program. Complainants expressed concern that the representative’s views were inaccurate, misleading and dangerous.  Finding: Upheld.

18 May 2011 * Sydney Radio 2UE “Whooping cough epidemic in Sydney” Stuart Bocking interviews Dr Robert Menzies from NCIRS

17 May 2011 * Manly Daily “Lack of immunisation blamed for outbreak”

15 May 2011 * Sydney Daily Telegraph, “Desperate plea by grieving parents”  and “Vaccine snobs’ kill baby”

16 February 2011 * ABC Radio National Late Night Live, Philip Adams interviews Seth Mnoonkin,  author of “The Panic Virus.”

16 February 2011 * Channel 10 TV “Whooping Cough: We’re not out of the woods.”

12 February 2011 * Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend True Unbelievers. (not on web.)

8 February 2011 * Sydney Radio 2UE Tracey Spicer and David Oldfield discuss Meryl Dorey

10 January 2011 Jo Thornely Sydney Daily Telegraph “Anti-vaccine akin to belief in Santa”

7 January 2011 * Sydney Radio 2UE Tracey Spicer interviews Meryl Dorey

29 November 2010 * Melbourne Herald-Sun Pointy end of the vaccination debate

11 November 2010 * ABC Complaints – complaint was received in relation to a segment about whooping cough vaccination on the ABC Mid North Coast Mornings program. The complainant raised a number of concerns about the segment, including that it was inaccurate and lacked balance, and the presentation of statistics by Meryl Dorey was wrong.   The complaint was upheld.

7 November 2010 * Brisbane Sunday Mail  Whooping cough is reaching epidemic proportions in Queensland

7 November 2010 * Sunday Telegraph Sharp end of vaccination 

6  November 2010 * The Daily Telegraph – Give anti-vaccine campaigners a shot of truth serum

20 October 2010 * Lismore Northern Star – Alarm over rise in disease cases

15 October 2010 * ABC Lateline – AVN stripped of charity status

22 September 2010 * Channel 10 News – Need for Pertussis immunisation

21 September 2010 *  Channel 10 National News  – Federal and States governments’ failure to implement a national Pertussis immunisation program

18 September 2010 * Lismore Northern Star Weekender Magazine “Two mothers with opposite views………..”

6 September 2010 * ABC Local Radio – Conversations- interviews Dr Rachael Dunlop (repeat of broadcast of 9 March 2010.  Segment on vaccination starts at c 35:50 on the counter.)

1 September 2010 * Sydney Morning Herald Copyright breaches land group in trouble

6 August 2010 * Lismore Northern Star AVN facing new probe into affairs

5 August 2010 * Gippsland Times Vaccination a must for all

5 August 2010 * Lismore Northern Star: AVN audited over charity donations 

5 August 2010 * Sydney Morning Herald:  Vaccine Opponent Risks Charity Status

5 August 2010 * ABC News Vaccine campaigners “breached fundraising laws”

4 August 2010 *  ABC Lateline AVN asked to defend charity status  (transcript and video)

2 August 2010 * Australian Medical Association Misleading claims about vaccination putting Australian lives at risk

29 July 2010 * ABC News Vaccination controversy continues

28 July 2010 * SMH Still No Warning on Whooping Cough

27 July 2010 * SMH Anti-vaccine Group a Threat

27 July 2010 * SMH Parents who lost baby stonewalled

27 July 2010 * Northern Star Warning Issued About AVN

27 July 2010 * ABC News Vaccine Group Needles Opponents

27 July 2010 * ABC News Anti-Vaccination Campaigners Slapped with Warning

27 July 2010  * New Scientist Anti-Vaccination Website Poses a Risk

27 July 2010 * International Business Times HCCC Warns Public on Anti-Vaccine Group

26 July 2010 * Medical Observer Public Warning Against Anti-Vaccination Website

26 July 2010 * The Medical News Anti-vaccination Group Declared Unsafe

23 July 2010 * Australian Doctor “HCCC rules on anti-vaccination group”

20 July 2010 * ABC Lateline “Roxon failed to deliver immunisation awareness:”

13 July 2010 * 2UE Steve Lieberman interviews Ken McLeod

13 July 2010 * 2UE The Two Murrays interview Meryl Dorey from the AVN

13 July 2010 * ABC World Today Top Doctor Backs Disclaimer On Anti-Vaccination Site

12 July 2010  * ABC Lateline in which Nobel Laureate Prof Peter Doherty describes the activities of the anti-vaxxers as a “crime against humanity.”

Stop The AVN full-page advertisement

(click to enlarge)

The following website will assist with some of the technical data about immunisation and the threat posed by lower immunisation rates.

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